How much do venues take from artist merch sales? Jeff Rosenstock breaks it down per venue on his upcoming tour, providing some eye-opening data on the cuts taken by AEG and Live Nation.
Artists have been increasingly vocal about the cuts in their merch sales that many venues take, while those venues insist that’s the cost of using their space. But when major entities like AEG and Live Nation buy more of those venues, it becomes increasingly difficult for “small-time” artists to afford to tour. Now we finally have some data on just how much of a cut some of those venues are taking as a rule of thumb.
Apropos of Labor Day, musician Jeff Rosenstock posted a breakdown of the merch cuts being taken by some venues on his upcoming North American tour, explaining why he’ll have to charge more on some dates and challenging the corporations at the helm to do better.
“Here are the merch cuts being taken by the venues on this upcoming tour. This is going to cause us to sell our merch for higher prices than we’d like to at certain venues. We think that sucks,” Rosenstock writes.
Rosenstock’s data shows some of the worst offenders on his tour include DC’s 9:30 Club, New York City’s Terminal 5, Boston’s Roadrunner, Atlanta’s The Masquerade, and Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall — all with a minimum 20% cut on merch like clothing, while some take an additional amount or tax on non-clothing items like physical albums.
Specifically, Rosenstock calls out the “big corporations” like AEG and Live Nation, who get the lion’s share of those cuts.
“If you work in a creative field, you’re supposed to feel lucky and happy enough to be there to get raked over the coals by millionaires and billionaires who will give you as small a slice of the pie as they can to perpetually show growth in profits,” writes Rosenstock. “It’s never these people left holding the bag. It’s either a musician (…) or fans who take on the burden.”
He concludes his post by expressing that while he would love to be able to say that the band won’t be playing venues that take merch cuts, that isn’t feasible, as during the pandemic, AEG and Live Nation bought “so many of the types of venues” Rosenstock and his band play.
“We’ll never stop trying to keep the prices low for everyone out there,” he assures fans, “and we’re gonna do whatever we can do to avoid it in the future.”
In response, musician and producer Steve Albini chimed in on Twitter, claiming that it’s a little-known fact that merch cuts are “100% negotiable.”
“My bands over 40+ years have never, not once, ever paid (merch cuts),” says Albini. “When agents make deals, they don’t care about ticket surcharges, merch cut, or other leaks; they don’t affect their cut. The band has to insist.”
Other musicians expressed frustration with the touring industry and that “more people need to know that venues/promoters do this.”
“A majority of the money we earn from touring is from merch, which we then have to pay back to a lot of venues,” writes emo band Sweet Pill. “The music industry is broken.”
Jeff Rosenstock’s tour follows the release of his new album, “HELLMODE,” and kicked off on September 6 in Washington, DC, continuing through December.